A fine blend

26th September 2003 at 01:00
Iain MacDonald recommends secondary literature resources

Lord Byron and the Greek War.

By John Webster. The Shelley Story. By John Webster. Pathfinder Audio, pound;12.95 each.

About 60 minutes playing time. Available from Book Systems Plus Tel: 01223 894870 This unique pair of audio CDs, each of which is narrated by poet Benjamin Zephaniah, defy categorisation. A whimsical blend of biography, poetry, folk song and polemic, they set out to give fresh impetus to the work of these two heroes of the romantic movement. In the case of Lord Byron this is not so much revival as resurrection (as an exercise, offer a chocolate bar to the first member of your English department who can quote in full a stanza from the pen of the renegade aristocrat). Extensive sleeve notes provide lyrics for the original songs, which somewhat frustratingly tend to mix and match extracts from different poems and also a commentary which in itself gives the rationale for the project.

This rationale would seem to be the moral and philosophical courage of the pair and their relevance to a secular, post-millennial society, rather than any particular quality of the poems themselves. The use of Zephaniah as narrator is, in this sense, apt, and elsewhere in the sleeve notes the spirits of Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and River Phoenix are invoked.

I liked these CDs, not just for their quirkiness but for what they're trying to do. However, I'm not sure how I would use them in class. Folk music isn't every adolescent's idea of fun, after all. I would be more likely to pass the CDs to a pupil as an introduction to one or other of the poets. In this context Lord Byron and the Greek War is perhaps a little specialised for the novice. The Shelley Story is more comprehensive and self-explanatory, and has the advantage of a supporting website (www.shelleystory.co.uksales.html). Shelley's work is also marginally more likely to appear on syllabuses, although ironically today's A-level student may well think of him as a relative of the woman who wrote Frankenstein.

Pathfinder Audio would no doubt rest their case.

Rainbow World - Poems from Many Cultures

Compiled by Debjani Chatterjee and Bashabi Frazer

Hodder Wayland pound;10.99

This eclectic collection of deceptively simple, lively and generally accessible poems is aimed at the seven to 13 age group, and brings a wide range of talent to the reader. Work from the established icons of other-culture poetry - Rabindranath Tagore, Derek Walcott, Grace Nichols and others - sits alongside that of newer, less acclaimed poets in an engagingly illustrated volume that seeks a wider compass than is sometimes found in such collections.

The editors, both poets themselves, have helpfully arranged the poems according to theme and I can see this book earning a valued place on the bookshelf of many a key stage 2 or KS3 teacher, and indeed becoming a much dipped-into resource for junior school assemblies. The price may deter budget holders from investing in full classroom sets, but there are many poems - Martin Glynn's "Genius", for example - with rhythms and language that would reward detailed study. Rainbow World is well worth a closer look.

Of Mice and Men

EMC Study Guide

English and Media Centre pound;5.95, plus postage and packaging www.englishandmedia.co.uk

This is, in effect, a replacement for the venerable 1980 study guide published by the Inner London Education Authority English Centre, and while one or two elements of that publication appear in the newer version, it has been comprehensively re-written and expanded with fresh material.

One welcome development is a more obvious structure, but the same stimulating use of facsimile documents and the general approach of requiring students to think in detail and for themselves about context and text is still much in evidence.

The study guide contains colour stills from film and stage versions of the novel, principally the 1992 Sinese film with Jon Malkovich, and a wealth of activities on more peripheral aspects of the text. A range of sample essays is also included. The time pressures of the new syllabuses make John Steinbeck's crisply written classic the novel of choice for many teachers.

This wide-ranging and detailed guide will be an ideal companion.

Klondyke Kate Revisited

English and Media Centre, pound;11.95 each, 20 or more copies pound;9.95 each, plus postage and packaging


Another revamp from the English and Media Centre's back catalogue, this volume brings up to date the anthology of non-fiction texts first published under the title of the eponymous female wrestler in 1995. The original was a TES award-winner, but this new edition seems to have even more bite.

A number of the old articles and extracts have been dropped and 26 new pieces have been added, which reflects the cultural shift of those eight years. John Pilger's elegantly sympathetic piece on vagrants is now put head-to-head with the in-your-face cynicism of Tony Parsons. David Aaronovitch excoriates Big Brother and the ubiquity of internet technology is addressed through articles on search engines and the art of the email.

This is light on neither budget nor biceps, but there are some cracking pieces between its covers, and many will consider it well worth the investment.

Iain MacDonald teaches English at Truro School, Cornwall

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